The Story of Lucky Strike
In 1928 Hill hired Edward L. Bernays to head up public relations for American Tobacco. Today Bernays is — somewhat contentiously — referred to as the father of public relations. Certainly, there is no doubt Bernays set the tone (the techniques and philosophies) for much of what has become corporate public relations. (He also had the good fortune to long outlive anyone else who might have claimed the title.) The title of Larry Tye's recent biography gives Bernays a more fitting honour: The Father of Spin.
Bernays was born in 1891 in Vienna. (Sigmund Freud was his uncle, but more on that later.) After graduating from Cornell — he was a disinterested student of agriculture — Bernays began to work as co-editor for the Medical Review of Reviews. He established the novel marketing approach of distributing free copies of the Review to most of America's 137,000 licensed physicians. The journal also took up the practice of having experts state their positions on health controversies.
In 1915, two months after beginning work with Medical Review, Bernays and his partner made the rather bold step of publishing a glowing review of the play Damaged Goods by French playwright Eugene Brieux. The play was about a syphilitic man who fathers a syphilitic child — too controversial in topic and treatment to hope for an American production. On hearing that leading actor Richard Bennett (Joan Bennett's father) wished to present it, Bernays sent a note: "The editors of the Medical Review of Reviews support your praiseworthy intention to fight sex-pruriency in the United States by producing Brieux's play Damaged Goods. You can count on our help."
Bennett took him up on his offer and Bernays found himself underwriting the production, though he had meagre financial resources and little hope the New York censors would allow the play to run. So Bernays began a public relations campaign that would simultaneously raise funds and keep the play censor-proof. He formed the first of his lobby groups, the Sociological Fund Committee, and pitched the play as a cause rather than a controversy. For four dollars and their moral/philosophical support, committee members got a ticket to the show. Hundreds of cheques poured in, as well as testimonials from John D. Rockefeller Jr., Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as Dr. William Jay Schieffelin, whose company had recently acquired American rights to a syphilis treatment.
The play was an enormous success, despite being generally reviewed as ponderously boring. But more importantly, the success of establishing a distinguished front group ensured that Bernays and the soon-to-be burgeoning public relations field would employ this technique over and over.
Bernays' First Principle
In the next few years Bernays worked as a publicity agent for Klaw and Erlanger, one of America's largest and most prestigious theatrical booking agencies. His job was to ensure Broadway productions became hits. Bernays' approach was to use the techniques that had worked so well with Damaged Goods and extend them in various — often unlikely — directions. He also handled Caruso's tour of America, as well as Diaghilev's Ballet Russe. (He found working for the Ballet, with its highly complex sexual and romantic relationships, an education. As he wrote in his autobiography, "I never had imagined that the interpersonal relations of the members of a group could be so involved and complex, full of medieval intrigue, illicit love, misdirected passion and aggression.")
But by now it was the eve of World War One and Bernays was called into service for the government's Committee on Public Information. Although only a young staffer, a press release he sent on the eve of 1918's Paris Peace Conference has been credited with botching the preceedings. At any rate, Bernays now had a taste for public policy. "I knew that musical and theatrical press-agentry and publicity would not satisfy me, after my experiences in the broader theater of world affairs. I was intent on carrying forward what I had learned in my work with Damaged Goods, the Russian Ballet, Caruso and the Committee on Public Information." It was at this time Bernays first articulated what might be considered the first principle of public relations: hitching a private, corporate interest to a public one.
Psychology of Women Smokers
Bernays' assignment was to have more women smoke more Lucky Strike cigarettes. As Bernays put it, "Hill became obsessed by the prospect of winning over the large potential female market for Luckies. 'If I can crack that market, I'll get more than my share of it,' he said to me one day. 'It will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.'"
Bernays divided this objective into two separate agendas: to make smoking more attractive to women, and to make women smoking, particularly in public, socially acceptable. The fact that neither agenda was focused solely on the Lucky Strike brand was a bone of contention between Bernays and American Tobacco — but then virtually all of Bernays activities for the company were focused on changing larger patterns of societal behaviour rather than merely shaping buying habits or brand loyalties. That was the responsibility of the advertisers.
To address the first agenda — how to make smoking more attractive to women — he thought the young disciplines of psychology and, particularly, psychoanalysis might be of service. It was taken for granted that smoking was a masculine pursuit, natural and normal for a man but unnatural, even perverse, for a woman. Smoking for a woman must therefore involve a "replacement of normal cravings." Bernays set out to determine what this substitution of desire might involve, what "normal" object the perverse cigarette might best replace, and by what mechanisms. With this knowledge he might have the ability, the power, to easily shape the behaviour patterns of the entire society for the benefit of his corporate clients.
Here is a draft of a letter to be sent to various scientists concerned with human behaviour. As it succinctly sketches out his areas of concern, it's quoted here in full:
Unfortunately, we don't know who Bernays sent this questionnaire to, or how they responded. We can assume, though, that it would have been sent out by a cover group or individual without any references to American Tobacco.
A. A. Brill
Bernays was uniquely situated to incorporate psychoanalytic thought and methods into his endeavours: he was Freud's nephew. Although Bernays' family left Vienna for America (a Vienna now frequently referred to as "Freud's Vienna") while he was just a child, he stayed with the Freuds occasionally and had a frequent, passionate correspondence with Sigmund. Bernays, for instance, was oversaw the translation and publication of Freud's first American books. (Letters survive which trace out the complicated negotiations involved in getting the works to press. In these letters Freud alternates between being grateful and co-operative, and angrily bitchy — ready to call the whole thing off. Through the proceedings Bernays remains uncharacteristically patient and self-deprecating.)
Certainly Freud's ideas had a great influence on Bernays, but as Bernays admitted in an interview in 1971, "I ascribe whatever I learned about Freud more to absorption than to studiousness in reading of Freud." So perhaps Bernays didn't bother to read the uncle he had worked so hard to publish. But, as he was able to consult with people who had — experts — it perhaps didn't really matter.
One of these experts was a protege of Freud's, America's first psychoanalyst, A. A. Brill. In 1928 Bernays convinced American Tobacco to retain Brill as a consultant. Brill was a natural choice — not only was he truly pre-eminent in his field (in America), but he had published an article, "Tobacco and the Individual" in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in 1922.
In that article, Brill distinguishes between the healthy use of tobacco, which is characterized by an enjoyment of smoking unhindered by any anxiety or conflict, and the unhealthy, neurotic use characterized by a "masturbatic regression to autoeroticism." Brill, himself a smoker, ultimately comes out in favour of the indulgence.
I have the urge to analyze Brill's rhetorical slips — the illogical claim that "most of x is all y," seems aggressively defensive. But I won't follow this urge. Instead we'll move back to the actual topic: women and smoking. It seems that it may not be possible for a woman or a "primitive" to be a good, healthy smoker.
The next sentence helps us connect the dots to form the appropriate world view. (I searched the article in vain for references to smoking monkeys.)
The verdict is clear: smoking is, psychologically speaking, (like alcohol) perfectly healthy for the majority of non-neurotic, modern (that is, white) men who have the capacity to enjoy it for what it is — an enjoyable thing. For all others — those who are unable to develop a true non-neurotic, modern relationship with tobacco's joys — it remains suspect.
Brill's Work for American Tobacco
Brill's first report for American Tobacco lost all overt references to the idea of women smokers as being almost necessarily neurotic. Their adoption of "masculine protest" was seen as social development rather than individual perversion. And while this social development — women abandoning the maternal in the hopeless endeavour of becoming fake men — was usually judged as being highly negative, the context of marketing was able to render it an apparently (almost) value free analysis. Yet all of the negative associations Brill's earlier article had towards women and smoking were still in evidence. But not all was for naught: the strain of Brill having to rephrase his views in a way that would be useful for the company caused him to devise a rhetorical flourish which inspired one of Bernays more legendary campaigns. As Bernays remembers it:
Torches of Freedom
Brill's report for American Tobacco (on the problem of women smokers) was submitted in 1929. This is how Bernays encapsulated the report in his biography:
Always on the look out for good catch phrases, Bernays hooked on to the idea of promoting cigarettes as "torches of freedom" for women caught in mid-emancipation, semi-sufragettes. And what better thing to do with a torch of freedom than put it in a parade. So, from a simple phrase in Brill's report, Bernays derived inspiration for one of his best known campaigns.
Bernays idea, though logistically complex, was itself simple: a parade of women proudly, publically, defiantly smoking.
The event itself was to take place on Easter Sunday on 5th Avenue in New York. 5th Avenue, America's most prestigious promenade commercially, also contained many prominent churches. As the parade passed them — Saint Thomas's, Saint Patrick's, "the Baptist church where John D. Rockefeller attends" — participants leaving Easter service could light up and join in.
Bernays first step was to recruit participants. What kind of woman would be ideal? Young, certainly, and modern. About half were to have male escorts. Bernays, as thorough as ever, outlined further requirements in an internal memo:
Bernays gathered a list of thirty suitable debutantes through an associate at Vogue. Each of them was sent an initial telegram signed (without reference to American Tobacco or the public relations firm) by Bernays' secretary, Bertha Hunt.
At the same time, advertisements were placed in several New York papers. These were in the form of a letter signed by leading feminist Ruth Hale. While the "personal" letters were somewhat chatty, Hale's public recruitment is downright polemical.
Many of the thirty initial prospective recruits responded through Raymond Service Inc. These were forwarded to Bernays.
Not to suggest that all the responses were so negative — they're just the most interesting, quote-worthy ones. The willing paraders assembled Good Friday in Bernays' office for a final briefing. Luckies were issued to the rebellious debutantes. Bernays instructed the participants as if he were a theater director blocking out a scene. But even with such extensive and thorough planning, many things can go wrong. Amazingly, nothing did. The parade played itself out perfectly. And newspapers across America picked up on the story. This version is from the United Press.
Over the next weeks, spontaneous torches of freedom gatherings occurred in many American towns and cities, resparking the controversy in the nation's editorial pages. Although the consensus was generally against them "adopting the coarser habits of men," it became increasingly acceptable for women to smoke in public.
Burt G. Wilder, a neuro-anatomist at Cornell, established a collection of the brains of prominent people for use in comparative anatomy research. The basic premise of this type of research was simple enough: a famous pianist, say, will have a brain in which the anatomical area responsible for musical ability will be larger, more prominent, more developed. Thus, by comparing the brain of someone with extraordinary abilities with a "normal" brain, a map of functional brain anatomy can be established.
But Wilder also publicly spoke against the health effects of tobacco. Upon his death his brain became part of the collection and was charted for developed and under-developed (atrophied) areas. Here is how Bernays spun out the results in a press release "CRUSADERS AND ATROPHIES." Notice how he deftly ties everything together with a reference to his recent torches of freedom campaign.
An explanation of why crusaders and reformers mix danger and safety is seen in a recent article by Rupert Hughes in the New York American, in which he states that the fierce hostility of tobacco reformers is laid to a sense of smell gone wrong.